The recent appointment of the Matthews Town Council President and clerk-treasurer’s son as a town employee raised concerns of nepotism this week.
The council chambers overflowed into the hallway as resident Stacie Collins asked the board about the process used in March to fill the open sewer clerk position, which pays $650 per month to collect, process and oversee the town’s billing for about 250 accounts.
Clerk-treasurer Sandy Loer and Matthews Town Council President David Loer are married. David Loer has been on council for 26 years, and Sandy Loer was appointed to her position by a Republican caucus in 2010 before her subsequent re-elections.
Cameron Bright, the Loers’ son, was appointed by the board to the sewer clerk position in a unanimous vote in March. David Loer abstained from the vote, according to meeting minutes from March.
“We reviewed the resume, seen he was qualified, made a motion, they voted on it. I abstained because I don’t have any right to vote on my son,” David Loer said.
The open position was never posted publicly, according to David Loer. Instead, he reported that he and council asked people around town who they thought would be qualified for the job if they were interested.
“It’s been in our system for years that it (the position) could be an appointed position if we so needed. We never did over all those years. The previous boards didn’t do it. We decided we’d try it a while to see what happens,” David Loer explained about the process. “Our son, yes – four year degree cum laude from Ball State – he’s highly qualified. We talked to other people to see if they were interested. They weren’t, so we appointed him… If it doesn’t work out, we’ll terminate him.”
Bright received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ball State University and a minor in business, according to David Loer. He said Bright has been working for Best Buy for 10 years and remains in that position since the sewage clerk position is part time.
Prior to the appointment, the board traditionally appointed the clerk-treasurer to the position of sewage clerk, councilman David White said. White oversees the sewage department as one of his roles on council. White is not related to Bright, he said, but he added that he does supervise his father who works as a lift operator in the sewage department.
White said Sandy Loer was paid out of two separate funds for her different roles, in accordance with the state auditor’s guidance, before the job was given to Bright.
Both White and David Loer said having a small talent pool to pick from in the town of 559 people, according to 2010 census data, makes it difficult for the town to find qualified candidates who don’t have conflicts of interest.
Collins said she was upset that she heard of the appointment from other citizens and not from a board announcement, but councilman Jim Gross said that information was discussed publicly at the March meeting which no members of the public attended.
When Collins asked if the appointment was in the March meeting minutes, Sandy Loer replied, “yes.”
According to the approved March minutes, there is no mention of Bright’s name, but a vote was recorded in the salary ordinance section for the sewer clerk position.
Cindy Lou Hisle and Collins expressed distaste for how council was reacting to the questions from the public. At one point Gross raised his voice as he said, “Our notes are public information. You can go and get our notes publicly,” in response to Collins saying she believes members of the public shouldn’t have to be physically present at every meeting to get town information.
Hisle described the meeting as “aggressive” after Gross laughed at Collins when she asked if her request to consider replacing Gross’ seat with Ronnie Crouch would be taken seriously by council. Gross said he is moving out of town, which would require him to step down from his position. The position will be filled by a Republican caucus.
“I would just like to see the meetings be more about us putting our heads together and less of us being aggressive to each other,” Hisle said.
“I’ve been here for eight years, and this has been the first meeting that’s been aggressive like this,” councilman Ken Shrontz replied before apologizing for a past interaction with Hisle at a public meeting last month.
Hisle said she respects how council members volunteer their time even though they are paid minimally for what they do in the town, but she said she wishes council would offer assistance more to people who aren’t educated on town affairs but want to engage by attending meetings.
“I have been more warm and fuzzy toward you as I get to know you,” she said in response to Shrontz, acknowledging that council has been respectful since last meeting. “But no, I felt as a person that came in here very uneducated about what was going on it was really ‘shut up these people have been told’ and I am not saying that’s what you did but that was the feeling.”
About five minutes into Collins asking questions, Gross told her he thought her time was up. When Collins asked about the three-minute comment rule before addressing council, Sandy Loer said they hadn’t been enforcing that limit. As Collins asked if she could ask another question, David Loer said, “We’ll be here next month.” The time limit was not enforced on any other members of the public. At that time, the police officer on duty was motioned by council to step in.
That didn’t stop Collins from asking her question regarding how the council discussed last month about reducing the number of council members from five to four seats upon Gross vacating his seat.
White reported that the council never ended up voting on that motion, saying the number of seats will remain at five.
David Loer said he was upset with how Collins was “attacking” the council on Facebook prior to the meeting. Collins made a post that expressed her distaste for the current council, calling them “yes” men.
In response, David Loer said it is true that he is friends with the other council members since all of them except Tyson Nuckols have been on council together for 26 years, but he said they are all independent and represent the voters who elected them.
Ultimately, the board explained that the vacated seat would be filled by a Republican caucus, where Darren Reese, David White and anyone else in the caucus district would choose who to appoint to replace Gross.
Gross said he is not sure when he will officially move.